This is the 3rd blog in 3 days involving Emile Smith Rowe. I had never really written much on him before but his performances have turned the spotlight on him.
Yesterday I spoke about how Arsenal should switch from looking to sign both Julian Brandt and Emi Buendia, and only focus on with of them. And that Smith Rowe would be sufficient competition to play in the middle for which ever one we signed.
But as I was writing, it came to me that there is still the space in the squad for 2 attacking midfield signings.
If Arteta is to continue with 4231, Arsenal need 6 players capable of playing behind a single striker.
At the moment those 6 options are: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Willian, Nicholas Pepe, Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson. Throwing in Gabriel Martinelli and Joe Willock makes it 8.
8 is a lot of numbers, but it lacks quality, highlighted in our struggles to create this season.
Nelson and Willock have both stagnated in the last 18 months and Arsenal should look to cash in on them. They would raise £30-40million combined, which would finance their replacements.
In building his team for 2021/22, Arteta needs to focus on versatility and fluidity.
One of Ozil’s great attributes was his ability to drift across the pitch and find space. He did not just stay central and would be a creative outlet throughout the final 3.
When he drifted to the wide positions, it then gave space in the middle for Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla or Alexis Sanchez to fill. This concept is something that Arteta needs to build on.
The 3 behind the striker should be interchangeable. All capable of playing left, right and centre. That way it creates fluidity behind the leading striker and allows us to create 2 or even 3 on ones outwide.
We have already seen the benefit when Smith Rowe drifts left, teaming up with Kieran Tierney and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to overload that side. Likewise with Saka and Bellerin on the right.
A fluid 3 behind a striker also makes us a lot harder to defend.
Saka, for example, has very different attributes to Smith Rowe. A full back would have to switch up his game plan as the two interchange positions.
I am sure one of the reasons Willian was signed was due to his versatility behind the front man.
So we basically need 6 attacking players who can do the job behind a single striker.
In Saka, Willian and Smith Rowe, we have 3 players that have the type of versatility that Arteta desires. Lets ignore the debate over Willian’s future. With his contract, he is going no where.
So that is 3 of the 6 positions filled.
One problem for Arteta is Aubameyang does not have the versatility behind the front striker.
He is best utilised either down the middle as that main striker or on the left hand side.
We have seen often this season that our creativity down the left is stifled when he plays – with an over reliance on Tierney.
My view is Alexandre Lacazette will leave this summer with Aubameyang moving centrally. This gets rid of the problem of Aubameyang not really having that versatility behind the front man.
So with Aubameyang moved up top, we have the 3 aforementioned as well as Martinelli and Pepe.
I would prefer to see Martinelli as Aubameyang’s cover up top; but he is more than capable playing a little deeper. He would be 2nd choice striker (with either Eddie Nketiah or Folarin Balogun as 3rd choice) and one of the 6th options in attacking midfield.
Saka, Smith Rowe, Willian, Martinelli. It still feels lacking.
We then have Nicholas Pepe.
Pepe joined 18 months ago for a huge fee which should not be held against him.
Based on his performances, he has been a poor signing – regardless of whether we paid £72 million or £27million for him.
Joining from Lille, we spoke a few years back about how he would either be the new Gervinho or new Eden Hazard. He is closer in talent to his Ivorian team mate.
If Arsenal can somehow get an offer in the region of £40million for him, we should cut our losses and move on.
Pepe does have the versatility to play across those 3 positions – he played more centrally in France – but the feeling is he does not have the quality.
So if Pepe stays, we have the space for one new signing – and the feeling is that should be Brandt. But if he leaves that could open the door for both Brandt and Buendia
Like Saka, Smith Rowe, Willian and Martinelli, Brandt and Buendia can both play across the 3 behind the striker, and would give Arteta plenty of options.
Arteta could go
Saka Brandt Buendia
Brandt SmithRowe Saka
Martinelli Brandt Saka
Brandt Buendia Saka
Saka SmithRowe Buendia
We would have options, versatility and fluidity.
So whilst Smith Rowe’s emergence means we do not need to sign both Buendia and Brandt, the departure of others would leave the transfer of both firmly on the table.
Final note: The above would also leave the door open for Houssem Aouar who is equally adept at playing all 3 roles behind a striker.
Brandt, Aouar, Buendia. 2 out of 3 to come to Arsenal next summer?